Sermon Notes

Fast, not like a hypocrite


  • In the sermon on the mount, Jesus focuses on three aspects of the Christian faith. I’ve mentioned this many times over the last few months, but meaningful repetition is good for the soul.
    • The New Life that we have as born-again believers in Christ
    • The New way of thinking that flows out of the mind of the believer, that is continually being renewed and reformed by the Holy Spirit using the word of God.
  • The New way of living is the result of the new way of thinking.
  • This is precious food to our souls, beloved. God is not just bearing us, He is transforming us into the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ.
    The Christian life is the new life.
    2 Corinthians 5:17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
  • And chapter six of the Gospel, according to Matthew, is Jesus tearing down the walls of worldly thought and action, especially in the pursuit of piety.
    The Pharisees and the scribes had lousy motivations. They desired the praise of men and did not have any love for God.One can love established church traditions, even if they be true and precious, and yet not love God. One can sing the great hymns of the last centuries and their voices echo only as far as their selfish hearts can understand them. One can pursue piety not out of a love for God, but out of a love for man’s praise.This is not Christian living, and Jesus is bringing that out in His great sermon.
  • He focusses on three areas to begin, three areas where the so-called pious men, the Pharisees and the scribes, sought to establish their fame – in giving, praying, and fasting.Although we may not necessarily relate with all these three areas as a means of self piety or fame amongst us from a cultural standpoint, we must recognise that the principle still applies in many other aspects. For example, I’ve often seen people become uncomfortable when someone points out a possible error in someone of high spiritual esteem. The immediate response is often, “How can you say that? They’re so this and they’re so that.”I can imagine even some of you reacting that way if someone were to point out errors about me.Beloved, none of us are worthy. If Paul could call himself a wretch, I can do easily worse. Our pursuit of God ought to be out of love for God. Our esteem of others has to be out of seeing their love, for God. Many fools can preach well, but only the righteous man seeks after the God whom He preaches, with all his heart.Seek out righteous men and women, and esteem them, but remember that all are sinners. That is why many teachers encourage the best men or women to esteem much, are the ones who have already passed.
  • Jesus had a word for people who pretend piety – hypocrites (actors). People who wear different masks as they play different roles during the play in the theatre. Beloved, don’t be actors. Be Christian.
  • Also, in focusing on giving, praying, and fasting, it isn’t a question of “if” we give, pray or fast, but “when”. These aren’t man-made pursuits of righteousness. God expects us to be givers, prayerful, and fasting.
    And Jesus main point here is,
    Matthew 6:1“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.


  • Having said all that, today we bring our attention to the third point – fasting.
    Matthew 6:16-1816 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
    • And when you fast
      It is often a strong reminder to some of us, like me, that the question is not if you fast, but when. For many years, a lack of good health had kept me from fasting. But as time went on I recognised how I’d often forget to have breakfast because of my work. Or I had lunch during tea time because I had a lot of stuff to get done.
      And my health had to accommodate work, but not devotion to God.
      The question of fasting ought to be when not if.
      Now, at this point, you might be tempted to see this as a biblical command, but it is not. The Bible does not command Christians to fast. God does not require it of us in any part of Scripture.
      Unlike giving and praying, which the Bible commands and instructs in many places, fasting is never given as an explicit command by God. Instead, it is commended in many places as a favorable practice that is beneficial to us. It is entirely a voluntary act on our part.So, when Jesus says, ‘when you fast’, He suggests that it ought to be a normative voluntary practice of the Christian, not an exceptional thing we do.So, we have to ask the question, “If the Bible doesn’t explicitly command fasting, then why must we fast?”
    • For that, we need to first understand what is fasting.
      If we survey history, we will see that fasting is a cross-religious, cross-generational practice. Different people have different reasons for fasting. Modern culture has many who fast as a means to regulate their diet and improve their physical health.Now, the Bible always connects fasting to a spiritual benefit and not a physical one. Many characters in the OT and the NT fasted. We know of the early church fathers who fasted.Therefore, we begin with the understanding that fasting although not commanded, seems to be very beneficial to us. But how? How can keeping ourselves from food, possibly be good, and possibly be helpful in any way? What does food have to do with spirituality?
    • One of the most helpful passages in understanding fasting is
      Matthew 9:14-15 14 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast,3 but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.We find here, Jesus makes two crucial connections to fasting.
      One, fasting has something to do with mourning.
      Two, fasting has something to do with the bridegroom.
      • Abstaining from food is not meant to be a joyful experience. It is a serious and mournful one. Whenever one is brought emotionally low, chances are that you quickly lose your appetite. You don’t feel like eating anything. The pain of that sorrow purges our appetite.
        Whereas when one has a joyful experience, one always tends to throw a feast. A feast is a celebration. A fast is a serious, mournful, and solemn refrain from food.
        Can the guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?
        People don’t fast at a wedding, they feast.
      • The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them Jesus prophesies that a time will come when the bridegroom is taken away. Not missing, or went on a short trip, but taken away. When Jesus is in our midst why would we mourn or fast, but when Jesus is taken away, we mourn and we fast.That brings us to the second insight into fasting. Fasting seems to have something to do with longing. When the bridegroom is taken away from us, there is mourning because of a longing to be with the bridegroom. This longing results in fasting.
      • Now, fasting alone does no good. In the Bible, we find that one can pray without fasting, but one never fasts without praying.Therefore, when one mourns and longs, one prays with fasting.
        In 2 Samuel 12:16, David fasted and prayed when Bathsheba’s first child fell sick. David even fasted for his enemies (Psalm 35:13)
      • People fasted in the face of overwhelming danger, that God might favor and rescue them as we see in 2 Chronicles 20:3 and Esther 4:16.
      • Ezra declares a fast when the exiles were returning from Babylon to Jerusalem, where he says, “that we might humble ourselves before our God to seek from Him a safe journey for us, our little ones, and all our possessions.” (Ezra 8:21)
      • Daniel fasted as he prayed for God’s forgiveness for the sins of the people. So did Ezra. When Johan prophesied against Nineveh, they were convicted and “called a great fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them”
      • Daniel fasted and prayed that he might give his full attention to God in order that he might receive God’s revelation.
    • In all these verses, we find that fasting is an expression of the mortal flesh. It declares an explicit dependence on God in humbling oneself of any boastfulness or pride in ones own strength or abilities.
      It is an expression of need, of mourning and longing.Fasting is an expression wherein we are brought so severely to the point of longing, of needing and wanting God to work in our lives, that something as basic and fundamental as food is overlooked. When we fast, we are in such a need for God that we don’t even think about eating.
    • Therefore, principally speaking, fasting seems to be a refrain from food or any other worldly delights that we enjoy on a constant basis, as an expression of mourning and of longing, for God.
      This was not necessary when the bridegroom walked in their midst. But when he was taken away and seated at the right hand of the Father, we now long for him. We long for His rule and His kingdom. We long to have the revelation of His nature completely revealed to us, that we might peer past the dim windows of this fleshly life, and see beyond to the celestial city of God’s paradise.We fast because we both need and want Jesus. We long to be with Him completely.
      In that sense, fasting is an expression of our longing for heaven. Therefore could it be that we fast too less because we long to remain on earth?
    • do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
      • The Pharisees did not have genuine sorrow in their fasting. Instead, they fasted as a rule and used it as a means of vainglory. They disfigured their faces that their fasting may be seen by others.
      • Such a fast has nothing to do with what we just saw displayed across scripture. The motives of the Pharisees were vain. They will receive their reward, but not a heavenly one. They will be favored by men, but not by God.
      • Now, as I mentioned earlier, this may not be an apples-to-apples relation with the way we do different things. We may not boast in our fasting, but we may boast in our preaching, or in our service (how we take care of others), or in our knowledge of the word, or in our abilities (in our music). The ministry is a treasure load of temptations to want to make much of ourselves in front of people.Fasting, of all things, is a firm statement against our pride. It is not an expression of our worth, but the opposite.
        As John Piper put it, “Fasting is a physical exclamation point at the end of our pleas to God.
    • 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
      • When you serve God, serve Him in a manner that you do not showcase your sacrifices to others. Let men be baffled at how you do all that you do for God without complaining. Let your weariness and exhaustion be displayed only in the inner room of prayer, in secret with God.
      • Therefore, anoint your head and wash your face in order that others may not see the great and wonderful things you do in secret.
        Personal fasting, therefore, is between God and you. You do not proclaim of it to others or make it known.
      • Your Father sees in secret when you fast, and He will reward you.


  • Jesus began His ministry to build His kingdom on earth, with a 40 day fast, and not a 40-day election campaign. When the second person of the Trinity humbled Himself to the point of becoming human flesh, He displayed to us the kind of humility and dependence we ought to show in our daily lives.Whenever we embark on a work, do we fast and pray? Let me tell you church, that there are those among us and who serve us from other parts of the world, who have fasted for many of our events, even our latest Christmas event we did yesterday.
  • Let us, therefore, be a people who willingly fast from time to time, as we long more and more for the coming of our Lord.
  • Amen
    Michael Teddy Fernandez

    Author Michael Teddy Fernandez

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